After leaving the US Marines to their fate after their escape from Station February earlier in their adventures, Toriko and Sorawo decide it is finally time to make good on their word and head back to save them. While getting in is as easy as retracing their steps on the night of their ill-fated trip to a bar in Shinjuku, getting back out again is a whole other matter, as only Sorawo can guide the remnants of the Marines through the Otherside’s deadly fields, filled with traps, glitches and much more besides! Will they all be able to escape unharmed, or are our heroines leading the Marines to their demise?
As we are now five volumes into this supernatural sci-fi series, it feels like we have got into a good cadence with the progression of each story with each one being set out in a similar manner, from the chill-out time with our main characters, to the emergence of the paranormal phenomenon, the investigation into it, and a big climax at the end. I wouldn’t say this formula needs a shake-up just yet as it is still working fine, but this volume definitely feels like a slower burn, which is mainly just down to the material it has to cover. Our main characters not only have to get back into the Otherside and get to where they are going, but there’s a lot of prep work that has to be done in both worlds before we can actually start moving soldiers around.
It doesn’t feel like it is slowing down the pacing just to drag things out though, as it has plenty to do in these slower moments as we get to see more of how the Otherside is affecting our characters. We’re starting to see more dramatic changes, such as Kozakura becoming overwhelmed with her trauma as her latest adventure gets to her in some pretty bad ways, while Sorawo is becoming more emboldened as she throws off the misgivings she had in previous volumes and starts to become more invested in exploring this strange world. She starts drawing up a map, something that is noted that Satsuki has also done, and starts becoming more resourceful, planning ahead and thinking about what they could use to help them survive (the Marines’ cache of weapons becomes a particular draw for her, although that doesn’t play out quite as she imagined!).
There’s also a little bit more world building as it tries to explain further about how the Otherside is accessed and how the space in between it and the real world operates. I think there’s still more to do here in more firmly establishing the connection between both worlds, but I like how our characters are experimenting with things and trying to find an answer to that question. Is it really to do with paranormal or possessed objects, or is it like Kozakura suggests and any exposure to the Otherside puts you more at risk of just sliding through? It doesn’t give us any solid answers here which I like as it encourages us to come up with our own theories – I personally think it’s probably a bit of both – but we’ll see if it throws up anything more definitive later in the series.
There are some other neat touches as Toriko and Sorawo get back in touch with the Marines and we see how much has changed. For example: a destroyed carriage stands in the middle of broken tracks, while the Marines have pooled their resources and made some new armoured vehicles to help in their escape. There are sadly a lot less survivors now, although with a lot of the bad eggs in the unit having met their demise, this time it’s a lot easier for our leading duo to gain their trust, particularly with their heroics from last time having been noticed. Feeling more at ease here also allows the two girls to be a bit more flirtatious with each other, but I wish it could have been over something better than guns. Nevertheless, there are some cute moments between them, particularly when Toriko notices how pretty Sorawo’s otherworldly eye looks when it is not hidden by her colour contact.
As we get into the main meat of this story however, I think things felt a little too predictable. The main march is far too quiet and the big attack comes exactly when I was starting to question the lack of any big action scenes. When they do come it goes in hard with the zombified remains of dead Marines feeling like a real threat, particularly as all that is keeping everyone alive is Sorawo’s mystical eye powers, which places a lot of strain on her.
It’s what comes after that that is the surprise though, as heading into the woods is a massive unknown and I love that it gets back to its more weird supernatural stuff as the monster that ends the volume is an absolute sight to behold. It does end things on a cliffhanger but after the slow march it feels very rewarding ending with a bang.
Visually this volume is still a strong one, although it’s more down to the details this time around, with its realistic depictions of vehicles and weapons that show a good amount of research has gone into depicting them as they look in real life. There are also good details on individual characters, while even though the cannon-fodder Marines are clearly copy-pasted, those that have dialogue have interesting designs. The Lieutenant is a soft and friendly guy whose eyes tell a different story, while the Major is exceptionally chiselled and gaunt looking. Monster designs continue to be one of the best elements though, as plants burst from zombies as they are hit, while the big bad boss is a curious mix of both Japanese and Western creatures.
The series continues to be published by Square Enix and is available both digitally and as a physical paperback. This volume is translated by Taylor Engel and reads well with no issues to note. As with other volumes, there is a bonus short story at the end of the book that puts a focus on events from Kozakura’s perspective, and although it does spoil the ending of this arc you get to see just a little more on how spooked out she really is which is very interesting to read.
Overall, this volume of Otherside Picnic is a fine continuation of an earlier story, and although the pacing is dialled back, it still has a lot to say about its world and how it is changing its characters along the way. Those looking for a bit more horror or action might find it a bit tedious, but it has a great payoff at the end and I can’t wait to see the conclusion of the thrilling cliffhanger.
Our review copy from Square Enix Manga was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).